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Governors tout cooperation during visit to Hudson

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, left, and Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle share a pontoon ride on the St. Croix River in Hudson on Friday afternoon. The governors made a joint appearance to highlight cooperative efforts to reduce pollution runoff to the river.

Governors Jim Doyle of Wisconsin and Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota highlighted cooperation between the two states during a joint news conference in Hudson on Friday afternoon.

In particular, the governors highlighted ongoing collaboration to reduce runoff pollution to the St. Croix River.

Doyle also called attention to executive orders that the governors signed in January directing their cabinet agencies to find ways to collaborate with their counterparts across the border to reduce costs.

"We hope this is just the beginning (of interstate collaboration)," Doyle said. "The St. Croix River is an example of how we have done this over the decades."

The governors addressed the media on Picnic Point, a peninsula jutting into the river that is part of the St. Croix Marina property.

Reporters were curious whether the collaboration would be extended to the tax reciprocity issue raised by Pawlenty a few weeks ago.

Part of Pawlenty's plan to balance his state's budget relies on Wisconsin speeding up the payback of income tax collected from Wisconsin residents who work in Minnesota.

Pawlenty and other Minnesota officials have hinted at ending the longtime reciprocity agreement if Wisconsin doesn't turn over the money more quickly.

The governors said Friday that talks about the issue are continuing.

"I hope we can find a way that people can continue to have the convenience of filing a single tax return," Doyle said.

Pawlenty agreed with Doyle's assessment of where things stand.

"Our teams have been in discussions about it, and we hope to find some compromises," he said.

Asked what Wisconsin's concerns are about speeding up payments to Minnesota, Doyle said the idea that Wisconsin is holding on to Minnesota's money is a mischaracterization of the issue. He was careful to add that Pawlenty wasn't the source of the misleading information.

"The idea that we are delaying payments is not accurate," Doyle said. "We have an agreement that has been in place for many years -- and we make them exactly on the schedule that has been agreed to."

He went on to say that Wisconsin pays 7 or 8 percent on the tax money it collects from residents who work in Minnesota. The money is turned over to Minnesota within six months of the end of the fiscal year, as is called for in the agreement, he said.

About 57,000 Wisconsin residents work in Minnesota, more than twice the number of Minnesotans who work in Wisconsin, according to a recent Minnesota Public Radio report.

The report quoted Pawlenty as saying it was unreasonable for Minnesota to have to wait for 17 months for Wisconsin to settle up on income tax money owed to Minnesota.

The reciprocity agreement allows residents of one state who work in the other state to pay income taxes in only their home state. Residents also pay their home state's income tax rate. Wisconsin's rates are lower than Minnesota's.

But Doyle, in an appearance earlier in the day at Hudson Bagel & Coffee Co., said Minnesota comes out ahead on the reciprocity arrangement because of the interest Wisconsin pays on the tax revenue it collects from residents who work in Minnesota.

Because of the interest it is paying, Wisconsin also has some incentive for speeding up the payments, he said.

State Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, R-River Falls, and State Rep. Kitty Rhoades, R-Hudson, both talked to Doyle about the reciprocity issue at the 8 a.m. "community breakfast" at the coffee shop. They told him it is an extremely important issue to many residents of western Wisconsin. He said he understood that.

River protection

The reason for the news conference at the marina was to call attention to the states' joint efforts to protect the St. Croix River and to reduce costs for both states.

At the conclusion of the event, the two governors -- along with Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Secretary Matthew Frank, Wisconsin Tourism Secretary Kelli Trumble and other officials -- took a half-hour pontoon boat ride on the river.

Jeff Holmes, the general manager of St. Croix Marina, welcomed the governors and later piloted their sightseeing boat.

Noting that the marina is home to 300-plus boating families, "The St. Croix River literally means the world to all of us," Holmes told the governors.

Dan McGuiness, interim director of the St. Croix River Association, introduced Doyle.

"Gov. Doyle understands that Wisconsin's rivers and natural resources enhance our quality of life and fuel our economy," McGuiness said.

Doyle said Minnesota and Wisconsin have a long history of working together to protect the St. Croix.

"The St. Croix is one of our most precious natural resources. Its beauty and importance have long been recognized at the national level," he said, pointing out that it was one of the original eight rivers protected under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in 1968. The lower St. Croix was added to National Scenic Riverway in 1972.

In 2006, Minnesota and Wisconsin signed an agreement to reduce phosphorus pollution to the river by 20 percent by the year 2020.

He announced that the two states would now be collaborating to protect the St. Louis River near Duluth and Superior, spending $1 million together on the project over the next eight years.

Doyle also reviewed the states‚ work to share services and costs on some 80 other projects -- from purchasing food for prisons to combating invasions of pests like the emerald ash borer and gypsy moth.